The horse’s happy neigh echoed across The Barry Robinson Center (BRC) campus. Wait…what? Horses on campus? Yes, BRC’s equine-assisted learning program now takes place on campus where many more residents can participate in this valuable therapeutic experience.
“The equine program is powerful,” said Allyson Hagan, CTRS, director of activities. “We wanted to find a way for our residents to still be able to engage and grow through the program while complying with safety precautions and our own expectations to keep everyone safe.”
For several years, BRC has worked with Circle A Home for Horses in Virginia Beach, taking a few residents to their facility to participate in the equine program. Circle A is a nonprofit organization that rescues horses destined for slaughter and provides therapeutic activities for emotionally challenged youth.
“Our biggest task was figuring out where we could locate the program on our grounds, away from the hustle and bustle of daily campus life,” Hagan explained. “We came up with a plan to build two round-pens by the softball field. This allowed us to create a structured space for the horses, and it’s also a peaceful and quiet part of campus.”
Currently, Circle A brings BRC’s program horses to campus three days a week, depending on weather and other activities. BRC sponsors three horses – Matty, Mister and Maverick. Residents attend the equine program by dorm, working in small groups for 45-minute blocks. Some residents may participate in individual sessions determined by the clinical team and recreational therapy staff.
During the sessions, residents do activities related to safety, grooming, leading and other ground-work. Every activity relates back to residents’ treatment goals. Building trust, maintaining a safe environment, developing nonverbal and verbal communication skills, and building healthy attachments are all covered during the program.
With the horses coming to campus, now all residents have an opportunity to attend on their dorms’ scheduled days. Each dorm has approximately two equine program visits per month.
“The program has been going so well! The residents really seem to enjoy themselves and what they are learning. They especially love the grooming and more interactive activities,” Hagan said.
Throughout the process of establishing the equine program on campus, Circle A staff have embraced the concept, she said. Circle As has been willing to do whatever they can to make this therapeutic program work for BRC. Although Circle A takes horses to events in the region, BRC is the first to have an ongoing scheduled program on its grounds with them.
Learn more about BRC’s recreational therapy programs.